Beyond The Gates (BTG) is a one credit course that every Mercyhurst University student takes in their sophomore or junior year. BTG was started in 2016, giving students a chance to go into the community to volunteer.
This opportunity provides a space to realize that we are not only members of the University, but also a part of the much larger world community.
This course has been evolving and adapting over the past few years due to the current conditions of the global pandemic. This year’s BTG program looks much different from last year’s, which looks much different from the previous years, so on and so forth.
During the academic year of 2020-2021, BTG had to pull away from its original structure because of COVID-19. The experience was made to be virtual, unfortunately resulting in giving it “More of a class feel than an experience,” said Alex Simpson, a junior Graphic Design major who was in BTG last year.
Because of COVID restrictions, BTG had to take away the most important part of the experience, the hands-on, in-person volunteer work within the local Erie community.
This did not sit well with some of the students.
One student that took BTG last year, who chooses to remain anonymous, said “It was just a bunch of prerecorded lectures from people who run the organizations that we would have been serving that we had to watch and reflect on. I gained nothing from that because it was just a bunch of videos about what we would be doing instead of actually doing something. As young and active members of the community we really just sat back and did nothing. I think that bothered me a lot because COVID was when there was the most need in the community.”
Despite the challenges that COVID presented the program with, Nicholas Carso, a junior Exercise Science major said, “I gained some knowledge and a taste of what it means to love and serve other people selflessly.”
Even though Carso experienced BTG virtually, he says, “I still gained perspective from reading, talking with teachers and classmates on Zoom, and reflecting on what speakers were saying.”
It is very exciting to note that Mercyhurst students are allowed to go back out into the community this year.
Students who are currently in BTG are already out in the community doing hands-on volunteer work and are making meaningful connections with the BTG community partners.
Simpson said, “I am happy that Beyond The Gates is back to being in-person because helping the community is a better experience than learning about why we help without being able to help.”
This year, BTG is in a hybrid model due to current COVID restrictions. Due to this hybrid version of the class, there are a few academic requirements such as reflection journals, simulations that teach ethical consequences, watching a presentation by Greg Baker, D.Min. about the mission of BTG, and the eight hours of in-person community service.
When being placed in volunteer locations, students are able to tailor their experience by choosing between a few broad categories such as housing and hunger, diversity and inclusion, children and youth, as well as health, wellness and aging.
Carso said, “I would advise students to pick a BTG category that truly interests you because then you will retain the most information and enjoy the experience.”
Once you have chosen your category, Bethany Woods, associate director of Community Engagement, works to get you into a site that will be meaningful to your interests.
According to Woods BTG is “A way to make the sisters of Mercy mission come into something tangible. Mercyhurst service learning, as a pedagogical thing, where you volunteer and then think about what you did and what you experienced. BTG is a mutually beneficial experience for Mercyhurst, the Mercyhurst students, and our partners.”
One of her favorite parts about the program is when students are positively impacted by the experience they have when serving. She loves when students are able to identify and recognize that the life experiences that we have are not the same as other people.
“To understand another person is to be proximal to them,” said Woods.
Beyond The Gates is a very rewarding experience for everyone in the community.
It is beyond exciting to see students go back into the community to really get the full experience of BTG this year.